Learn the cultural cues and slang of Londoners

By Emily O'Hara
Published September 1, 2011

So you’re going to London, a place where the locals speaks English. You wouldn’t think it would be too hard to integrate with the locals, right? Well, not quite. It may be hard to believe, but everyone in London doesn’t shop at Harrods or hang out around Big Ben all day, and no, they don’t have manners like the Queen. To avoid sticking out like a tourist, follow these insider tips about studying abroad in London.

England’s English

You don’t have to worry about the language barrier, however, that doesn’t mean that the English language is the same in London as it is in America. Here are a few word adjustments that are good to know: 

- Plaster: If you have a minor injury and someone offers you a plaster, don’t be concerned, it’s not plaster as we know it, but simply a Band-Aid.
- Jumper: No, men don’t wear dresses in London when they say they need a jumper, it’s just a sweater.
- College: Students in London don’t start college when they’re 14 years old, but they do start high school. The school system is very different than in America, but all you need to remember is that college is high school and university is college.
- Diary: It’s not as personal as it is for us; their diaries are their planners or schedules.
- Canteen: This isn’t a container, but instead it refers to a cafeteria.  

Coffee Break

As great as it is to immerse yourself into the British culture, there are some things that you don’t have to let go of. For example, I found it impossible to find plain old coffee anywhere. As you know, they love their tea, and when it comes to coffee they like lattes and cappuccinos. In fact, at my internship, the only coffee they had was instant—it was heartbreaking. So, if you’re looking for plain black coffee, I hate to say this, but the best and cheapest place to get it, is at Starbucks. Note: don’t ask for “coffee,” ask for “drip coffee,” because otherwise you still might end up with a latte.

Read Up

The Brits are in the know and are very aware of the day’s current events. If you want to have something to talk about with locals, pick up a copy of the Guardian or the Telegraph, and chances are, whoever you end up meeting will have read it too. If you don’t want to go out and buy a paper, there are also free newspapers like Metro.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Pub culture is real. Pubs are open from lunch until around 11:00. They aren’t the place to party, but instead the place to meet up with friends and family to relax after a long day. Pubs are a place to be social and watch football (soccer) so you’re ready to talk about it the next day. If there is anything you do to try to immerse yourself with the locals, this is the one thing you must do.

Hold Your Tongue

For all of you chatty American’s out there, the British like their peace and quiet, especially on the Tube. During commuting hours, the trains are nearly silent and the last thing you want to do is draw unnecessary attention to yourself by being the stereotypical loud American. Respect their culture and take the time to read the newspaper and catch up on the news, you’ll notice everyone around you is doing it too.

Take the High Road

Take the bus. Young Londoner’s like them because they are reliable and cheap; so why not save money when you have the chance? Plus, it’s easier to see the sights from a bus than a train!

British Humor

The Brits are known for their self-deprecating humor; they love to make fun of themselves and their friends in a rather dry manner. Don’t be intimidated by this if it’s not something you’re used to, just join right in.

Shop like a Local

If you want to shop like a local, don’t go to Harrods. Instead, enjoy the countless markets London has to offer. The locals love going to the markets to find unique items to add to their wardrobe, homes and refrigerators. You will find some of the best, most unique souvenirs to bring home at the markets.

Not sure which markets you might want to visit? Here’s a breakdown of popular London markets and what they have to offer:

- Spitalfields: Primarily homemade clothing and accessories.

- Covent Garden: Jewelry, clothing, antiques, handmade items and other unique finds.
- Camden: Accessories, clothing, food, and more—a bit more alternative than the others.
- Borough: Food, food and more food!
- Portobello Road: Antiques.

Don’t forget to be a tourist

Once you start living in London, you’ll know what will make you blend in and what will make you stand out. While you’re trying to be like everyone else, be careful that you don’t miss out on all of the more touristy things that London has to offer. Seeing the sights of London is what studying abroad there is all about! Maybe you want to visit the museums (which are free!), go on the London Eye, visit the Tower of London or take a trip to Platform 9 ¾. Remember, it’s all about balance. Enjoy your surroundings and visit fun attractions all while using these tips to act like a local in London.  

Learn more about studying abroad in London.